A few months back, I wrote a post about compiling a master list of all of Blake’s letters. The goal is to have an up-to-date bibliography of every letter that Blake ever wrote or received, along with letters by Blake’s contemporaries that have to do with him in some way.
As I’ve been putting this list together, I’ve come across a number of letters that pose a substantial obstacle to publishing them. Not only have these letters never been published before, they have never even been traced. We know about these lost letters only because other writings (other letters, journals, logs, etc.) refer to them. For example, Blake’s letter of 2 April 1804 says that he had sent a letter to his solicitor, R. Dally, “a fortnight ago.” But the letter he refers to has never been located.
At present, the Blake Archive communicates information about untraced works (or at least their existence) through “Related Works” pages. For an illuminated book like Songs of Innocence and of Experience, related works include alternate copies of the same work. The related works page for the letters includes references to Blake’s publications and works-in-progress.
Related Works might be one possible home for information about lost letters. But here we hit another obstacle. Often, we know of a letter’s existence through writings not published in the Blake Archive. So a Related Works page wouldn’t cut it.
Sometimes, a letter thought to be lost will resurface (the letter of 1 Sept. 1800 is one example). But even if lost letters are never found, knowing that they existed is valuable information. The smallest scraps of information about these documents might be grounds for trying to “publish” lost letters down the road.